fb - voice of agriculture
November 2005

WTO: Let’s Not Tap Dance Around the Issues


Bob Stallman
President
American Farm Bureau
By Bob Stallman
President, American Farm Bureau

We’ve all found ourselves in that familiar situation of being at the high school dance or a party without a date, or as I like to refer to it – a guaranteed dancing partner. Try as we might, you can’t negotiate a foxtrot or a tango with someone who just doesn’t want to dance.

I was recently in Geneva with agriculture leaders from around the globe preparing for the World Trade Organization’s ministerial meeting in Hong Kong this coming December. It being close to the end of the road for the Doha Round negotiations, the ministerial, in essence, is a make or break situation for U.S. agriculture.

The United States has laid out a serious proposal that is contingent on market access for our goods and products. The proposal is by no means final, but just another step in negotiations. It’s now time for other countries to step up to the plate.

It takes two to tango, and right now the U.S. is waiting for its dancing partner.

Squaring Up Our Partners

In order to get the ball rolling on negotiations, there needs to be a commitment to reform from Europe, which outspends the U.S. three-to-one in domestic supports. Not only does Europe need to proportionately reduce its expenditures, it must also agree to significantly lower its tariffs and expand market access.

Developing countries with competitive export-oriented agriculture also need to do their share.

Real trade reform must include substantial, ambitious and quantifiable expansion in access to markets. The United States will do its share to reduce domestic support but developed and developing countries must do their part in reforming and expanding market access opportunities.

Last Dance?

The American Farm Bureau Federation believes bold action is needed to provide commercially meaningful access to world markets for America’s farmers and ranchers. The U.S. proposal will significantly advance that position within the WTO agriculture negotiations.

An agreement with changes in domestic support programs could result in significant short-term economic challenges for some commodities. But, I firmly believe that long-term opportunities created by improved market access would overcome those short-term challenges.

While we support the proposal as an aggressive move to expedite the process, Farm Bureau will not sign off on a trade agreement that does not include additional market access and other incentives. At the end of the day, the final agreement has to be beneficial for U.S. agriculture because no dance is better than a bad dance.